At least seven killed, more than 200 injured after magnitude 6.4 quake strikes Taiwan, trapping people in collapsed buildings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2018, 12:52am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 2:41am

At least seven people were killed when a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the Taiwanese city of Hualien late on Tuesday night, trapping dozens in collapsed buildings and damaging roads and bridges. 

Premier William Lai said two of those killed were employees of the Marshal Hotel, which had collapsed; he also said that more than 200 people were injured, some seriously. 

The Central Emergency Operation Centre said the quake caused four buildings in Hualien to collapse, including the Marshal Hotel, the bottom floor of which was completely crushed, and a motel-cum-residential building that crumpled from the third floor down.

Rescuers believe people are still trapped inside damaged buildings.

Among those injured, two were mainland Chinese tourists, China News Service reported. The mother and son were travelling in Hualien when the quake struck. 

The strong quake struck 21km (13 miles) northeast of Hualien, a city of more than 100,000, just before midnight at a depth of about 9.5km, the US Geological Society said. 

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As multiple aftershocks continued to strike the area, President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Hualien on Wednesday morning to survey the damage.

Sections of the Suhua Highway connecting Ilan and Hualien counties were severely damaged. Cracks appeared on bridges and roads, leading to closures in some cases. Damage to gas pipes was also detected.

The Hualien county government said workplaces and schools would be closed on Wednesday. 

Among the injured were two Japanese, although a Japanese official said on Wednesday they were not in a life threatening condition.

“It’s the biggest quake I’ve experienced in Hualien in more than 10 years,” said resident Blue Hsu, who said his home shook violently.

Describing the scene at the Marshal Hotel, Hsu said the bottom storeys had been crushed.  

“The lower floors sunk into the ground and I saw panicked tourists being rescued from the hotel. There is one bulldozer and about 50 rescuers on the scene,” he said.

Authorities said that more than 100 people were taken to hospital with injuries, and officials from the Hualien fire department said 149 people had been rescued from damaged buildings. 

Those in charge said some people remained trapped but were unable to give an overall figure.

More than 35,000 families have been left without fresh water and about 200 families do not have electricity. 

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The fire agency said the Beautiful Life Hotel had also been damaged and was tilting.

Hualien is one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist hubs as it lies on the picturesque east coast rail line and is near to popular Taroko Gorge.

“[Tsai Ing-wen] has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the ‘disaster mechanism’ and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work,” the leader’s office said in a statement.

The earthquake was the second to strike off the coast of Hualien in just days. 

The city lies on the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean known for seismic activity from Alaska to Southeast Asia. 

The quake came exactly two years after a magnitude 6.4 quake struck southern Taiwan, causing the collapse of an apartment complex and the deaths of 115 people.

In September 1999, a magnitude 7.6 quake killed about 2,400 people on the island.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press